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Capacity problem looms as main UK interconnector damaged

December 1, 2016

By Paul Homewood





PEI have the latest update on damage to the French ICT:


Storm Angus, which struck British shores last week, is suspected of having had a damaging impact on the UK’s biggest energy interconnector.

The news means less overall capacity for the country at a time when the capacity margin is already tight. Rob Lalor of energy consultancy EnAppSys told
Power Engineering International the problem will have an inevitable impact on power prices.

The National Grid has confirmed that the Interconnexion France-Angleterre (IFA) interconnector with France is set to run at 50 per cent of its capacity until the end of February after investigations revealed four of its eight subsea cable were severed during the storm.
Interconnexion France-Angleterre (IFA) interconnector
“We experienced a trip of the IFA interconnector on the morning of Sunday 20 November,” National Grid said in a statement. “After further investigation, the fault has been identified and we can confirm that four of IFA’s eight cables have been damaged. This will result in a reduction of IFA’s maximum capacity to 1000MW until the end of February 2017.

“Investigations are ongoing and teams on both sides of the channel are working to restore IFA to full availability. We will issue regular updates regarding progress.”

A spokesman said the company was investigating whether the damage was caused by a ship’s anchor dragging along the sea floor during Storm Angus.

National Grid predicted a capacity margin of 1.1 per cent during peak hours this winter, rising to 6.6 per cent once of the Supplemental Balancing Reserve. However, both these figures assumed 2GW of net imports from continental Europe, partly through the IFA link.

UK day-ahead power prices rose sharply on Monday, when the news broke, amid steady wind and higher power demand forecasts, sparking supply concerns.

Platts reports that at around midday Monday, wind power supplies stood at 1.5 GW, accounting for less than 4% of the UK energy mix, while no French imports were flowing through the IFA link, the grid data showed.

Gas-fired power generation reached 22 GW, representing more than half of the electricity supplies, while coal and nuclear power production was at 5.6 GW and 8.3 GW respectively.

Rob Lalor, energy analyst with EnAppSys consultancy told Power Engineering International, that this winter the French Interconnector has been seeing greater variety in terms of imports and exports between France and the UK.

Normally the interconnector imports power into the UK most of the time, but this winter levels of imports/exports have been far more varied due to capacity issues in both France and Britain.

“On the 15th, 17th and 18th of November this activity meant that the system was very short heading into the evening peak with what appeared to be very limited evening margin, between available supply and demand, only for the interconnector to turn from a ~2GW export to France for the day to a ~2GW import across the evening peak; ensuring that France was able to reduce its cost of baseload power across the day and that GB was able to manage a tricky evening demand peak,” Lalor said.

“The interconnector has really been acting as a regulating valve, helping contain prices in both regions when there have been shortages and allowing UK generation to benefit from high prices in France and vice versa. The reduction in levels of capacity across this interconnector by 50 per cent will reduce the size of the regulating activity at a time when temporary shortages are becoming more common.”

Lalor added that this winter has already seen some very higher power prices in both countries (with the UK seeing its first supplier go bust this winter period) and the main impact of this will be increased price volatility in both markets and an increased requirement for both nations to handle their own capacity issues domestically.

“Both countries expect to see tight margins during similar time periods, so the ability to meet peak periods shouldn’t be adversely affected, but the ability of the interconnectors to regulate prices will be reduced.”

“Where there would be exports to France this should benefit UK consumers and French generators at the expense of French consumers and UK generators, whilst where there would be imports from France this will benefit UK generators and French consumers at the expense of French generators and UK consumers, so with relatively even levels of imports and exports there should be no obvious net winner. Ultimately we all gain as a whole from these interconnectors and so the aggregate cost of power will be higher than would otherwise have been the case.”



One wonders what might happen to the proposed Iceland and Norway interconnectors, which will certainly be exposed to much stronger storms?

  1. martinbrumby permalink
    December 1, 2016 11:04 am

    All interesting stuff.
    It would be good to have real figures for the relative import / export electricity transmission through the interconnectors. Every time I’ve looked, we’ve been importing at close to full capacity, not exporting. And that’s been going on for a couple of years.
    The balance of payments on electricity between us and France must be like the balance of payments on plastic toys and electrical goods between the UK & China.
    Of course, if half our import capacity from France can be knocked out with a dragged anchor, it makes you wonder how well protected we are against someone with malicious intent. Something else for the Jihadis to ponder, perhaps.
    Meanwhile we learn that we have imported £1.4 Billion in US Coal in the last 2 years. I wonder how much it would have cost to keep Kellingley going…

  2. Peter Langdon permalink
    December 1, 2016 11:06 am

    Rumour has it that the Russians let frogman Buster Crabb out for a swim when they transited the English Channel recently.

    Peter L

  3. December 1, 2016 11:06 am

    Heavy reliance on interconnectors is a recipe for disaster. What is needed is more spare despatchable capacity and NO weather-dependent renewables. Note the experience in SA.

    • Joe Public permalink
      December 1, 2016 11:20 am

      Paul did a piece on “EU Targets For Interconnector Capacity”

      They’re to be based upon “installed capacity”; 10% by 2020 rising to 15% by 2030.

      With UK wind having low & UK solar having lousy load factors, we’re going to get hit.

      But not as hard as the Danes & Germans.

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      December 1, 2016 10:22 pm

      SA ‘wins’ (?) the race to blackout. It looks like England will come second but a strong (?) finish coming from France and Scotland.

      The next 3 months are likely to see people having to resort to bonfires to keep warm.
      Hint – place deluded politicians on top for best results.

  4. NeilC permalink
    December 1, 2016 11:50 am

    Funny how Storm Angus only managed to damage the import of electricity, because over the last few weeks I have seen as much as -1.35GW (we are exporting). In fact I looked just now, it is reading -0.51GW (we are exporting).

    I would suggest it has not a lot to do with Storm Angus, but the problems the French are having with their nuclear fleet, plus its cold on the continent.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      December 1, 2016 1:55 pm

      They have clearly stated that 4 out of 8 cables are damaged – are you suggesting they are lying?

      Laying the cable where it is shown on the map doesn’t seem that bright – although conceding I presume it is heading to Fawley to connect to the grid – given that shipping would anchor there before using Portsmouth or Southampton.

      • NeilC permalink
        December 1, 2016 2:09 pm

        What I was inferring was, there still seems to be enough cable capacity to export 1.35GW. When we need some more will 1.35GW flow the other way?

      • Billy Liar permalink
        December 1, 2016 5:28 pm

        It connects to the grid at Chilling which is the other side of Southampton Water from Fawley.

  5. Joe Public permalink
    December 1, 2016 3:09 pm

    Prompted by NeilC / Gerry discussion (above) go to the (GB) Gridwatch site & zoom into the Daily & Weekly French/Irish/DutchEW ICT charts.

    Flows are constrained within +1 / -1GW

    Now, click ‘New! Gridwatch France’, and examine the respective Daily & Weekly Germany/Belguim/UK charts. Recent flows to/from the UK (black line) exceed 2GW in both directions.

    Curiouser and curiouser!

    • tom0mason permalink
      December 1, 2016 5:51 pm

      As the power crosses the channel the fish have it rescaled? 🙂

  6. tom0mason permalink
    December 1, 2016 5:47 pm

    17:39 and demand is Demand 49.23GW, Frequency 49.985Hz,

    Coal 8.45GW(17.16%) in the amber zone.
    Nuclear 8.05GW (16.35%) in the amber zone.
    CCGT has red-lined at 25.24GW(51.27%)
    Wind 2.61GW(5.30%)

    and the tiddlers are —
    French ICT -0.01GW (-0.02%)
    Dutch ICT 1.01GW (2.05%)
    Irish ICT 0.15GW (0.30%)
    E-W ICT 0.00GW

  7. Dave Ward permalink
    December 1, 2016 6:09 pm

    “We can confirm that four of IFA’s eight cables have been damaged”

    Two things:
    1) If a ship dragging its anchor was the cause, I find it hard to believe the crew didn’t know about it! Breaking a cable(s) carrying 400kV is hardly a trivial matter!
    2) How can we be sure that the remaining cables haven’t also been partly damaged, and could fail soon? You don’t need to physically cut a cable to put it out of action – under pressure, in a salt water environment, it only takes a small nick in the sheathing to let water in. Give it some time and…..

  8. Bloke down the pub permalink
    December 1, 2016 6:45 pm

    This is all a good reason for maintaining GMT and not being in the same time zone as Paris. Vive La Difference!

    Meanwhile, Andrew Ward at the FT has this piece on how the big six utilities are able to survive high spot prices that can put the small operators out of business.

  9. Graeme No.3 permalink
    December 2, 2016 5:31 am

    One day in the SA Department of Energy a bored public servant decided to turn out the cupboards in his office. In one he found a brass lamp which he decided would fetch a few dollars on E-Bay. When he polished it a genie appeared and gave him 3 wishes for releasing him from the lamp.
    The bureaucrat immediately wished he was in a luxury penthouse overlooking Sydney Harbour and (poof) there he was, magnificent sunny view through the floor to ceiling windows, and with a swimming pool on the terrace to the side.
    For his second wish he asked to be irresistible to girls and (poof) 5 gorgeous girls in bikinis were by the pool (although in the course of strict accuracy it should be mentioned that very little of the girls was actually inside said bikinis).
    For his third wish he thought a bit; obviously he would need money but how much? Especially with the outlook for the Australian dollar. He decided not to be too literal and instead told the genie to make it unnecessary for him to ever have to work again.
    And (poof) he was back in his old office.

  10. Green Sand permalink
    December 2, 2016 9:15 am

    This evening could be testing. No wind, no sun, gas maxed out! STOR guys will be very happy chappies!

  11. BLACK PEARL permalink
    December 2, 2016 9:57 am

    everything maxed our again with virtually zero wind 09:56am

  12. It doesn't add up... permalink
    December 2, 2016 11:56 am

    Some strange things over at the new version of BMREPORTS:

    Apparently we had a 1.2GW supply deficiency in the middle of the day yesterday (did we see a voltage drop to cover it?), while today balancing prices are already up at £130/MWh – presumably they will soar much higher in the evening rush hour. There seems to be a dip in the BritNed interconnector supply, being compensated by stopping exports to France. Interconnectors are a two way street: they work to provide us additional power, but only when there is a surplus available elsewhere. When that disappears, we enter a bidding war for who gets the blackout.

    Now I’m getting 504 Gateway Timeout errors on BMREPORTS. Something they don’t want me to know, or under cyber attack?

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